Manila – Australian police say they have been engaged in a covert operation in the Philippines for the past year as part of the war against terror. The Philippine police deny the claim although they acknowledge that their Australian counterparts have been providing advice and information on counter-terrorism issues.
Whatever the job description, the authorities in both countries acknowledged that Australian police helped thwart a Madrid-style bombing in the Philippines last year, Singapore’s The Straits Times reported.
A Philippine official told the newspaper that local affiliates of the Al-Qaeda terror network had planned to use 36kg of TNT explosives to bomb commuter trains and shopping malls in Manila in April last year.
But thanks to intelligence provided by Canberra, Washington and other allies, Philippine security officials were able to arrest four members involved in the plot days before the attacks were due to be carried out.
Canberra’s role in averting the disaster was first revealed by Australian papers on June 20. According to the report, the Australians have been investigating links between the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping group, regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah and a new group known as Rajah Sulaiman.
In a statement issued in Canberra on the same day, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said they had been working in the country since the Philippines called for help following the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in February last year that killed more than 100 people.
"The AFP can confirm it currently has members deployed to the Philippines to assist in a counter-terrorist capacity," the statement said.
In Manila, Philippine officials also confirmed that a handful of Australian federal police had provided forensic expertise, training and intelligence to their local counterparts but added that their operations were not covert.
"They’re forensic, for training. They come and go," the Philippine National Police chief, Director-General Arturo Lomibao was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
The executive director of the Philippine Centre for Transnational Crime, General Tolando Garcia, told The Straits Times: "It is not true they have a permanent base here. They do not come here without us requesting them, and they are not involved in actual operations. Our sovereignty is paramount. We will never compromise that."
* No covert Australian operations in RP – PNP (The Manila Times, June 22)
* Australia helps Philippines avert a Madrid-style bomb attack (The Straits Times, June 21)
* Australian police in covert anti-terrorist operation in RP (The Manila Times, June 21)